By Lori VanderHeiden, Assistant Principal, Park Elementary
The start of another school year is marked by several things, among them the bright yellow school buses on our roadways. According to the American School Bus Council, school buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school, and they keep an annual estimated 17.3 million vehicles off roadways surrounding schools each morning. Buses are able to keep our students physically safe, but what about the emotional and psychological safety of our buses? This is a question posed by the Peaceful School Bus Program, which brings together bus drivers, teachers, students, parents, and administrators to discuss the dynamics of riding a school bus and how to create a safe and welcoming environment. The program aims to change the social dynamics on the school bus by building strong relationships among students and the bus driver and teaching students to take responsibility for their “bus route group” and for what happens on the bus.
There are several reasons why the environment on a school bus is so unique:
- Students sit facing forward and can only see the back of the heads of others instead of face-to-face. The more impersonal an environment is, the more likely it is to be less respectful.
- The driver, who is the only adult in charge, is not looking directly at students but at the road ahead. Even the best and most effective teacher could not control a class if his or her back was constantly turned to the students.
- The driver is often farthest away from the students who are most likely to act inappropriately. Sitting at the back tends to be a right of passage and this affords students the opportunity to do and say things they normally wouldn’t do or say if they had more direct adult authority and monitoring.
- The bus is a loud, cramped space, which also leads to acting in ways they normally would not do. Students also need to be taught how to respect personal space.
- The bus is a self-contained unit, with no visible connection to either school or home and the rules there.
- Usually only overt physical actions like hitting or kicking get noticed by a school bus driver.
What can be done to address the unique bus environment? At school, Park Elementary students met with their bus group, their bus driver, and members of the teaching and support staff to build community in addressing these things. Older students paired with younger bus riders to talk through “peaceful” and “unpeaceful” behaviors and created some bus rules/expectations that they agreed to follow. Each bus group was photographed and those photos hang near the lunchroom and on each bus. At home, parents can ask students about the kind of bus climate they want to help create and remind them of the rules that were mutually created by their bus group. If each student did his/her own part, the combined effort would be amazing.
Our community is fortunate to have committed bus drivers who safely transport our children every day. Let’s all do our part to create healthy, peaceful buses.